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Government aims for at least half of all open board roles to be held by women by end of the Parliament

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Business minister Edward Davey and Lynne Featherstone (pictured), minister for equalities, have announced a business strategy to increase the number of women on the boards of listed companies in the UK.

Research from Cranfield University found a lack of female directors in Britain’s top businesses, with women making up only 12.2% of directors of the FTSE 100 companies in 2009.

The FTSE 250 companies have an even lower proportion of female directors at 7.3%, and nearly half of them do not have any women in the boardroom. 

Lord Davies, who is the former chairman of Standard Chartered, and a former Government minister, has been asked to build on the work carried out by Professor Laura Tyson in her 2003 report by identifying the obstacles to women becoming directors of listed company boards and making proposals on what action Government and business should take to improve the position.

Davies will present his recommendations by the end of the year.

Davey said: "Diversity on boards is a very important issue and something that the Government is very committed to. This is why the Government wants to lead by example on this issue, announcing today its aim to place women in at least half of all open board level roles by the end of the Parliament.

"We want to work with business leaders to remove the obstacles to UK plc benefiting from the skills and experience of women. This is not just about gender equality, but about improving performance and ultimately productivity too.

"Mervyn [Lord Davies] is a true champion of this cause and worked hard to emphasise the importance of diversity while he was at Standard Chartered. I know that he will work with the same determination in this new role and he has the profile and standing to drive forward this important area of work."

Featherstone added: "Equality is as good for businesses as it is for women – diverse organisations reflect their customers better, understand them better and offer better products and services as a result. It is essential that we don’t miss out on the talent and skills of half our population if Britain is going to compete in a fast-moving global economy. We need to do more to identify and tear down the barriers that prevent women rising to the top in business, and I look forward to working with Lord Davies to make this happen."

The Government wants to lead by example, and tackle the gender imbalance of the boards of public-sector organisations.

These organisations include quangos, executive agencies, NHS bodies, as well as government departments In March 2009, there were over 12,000 men and women serving on the boards of around 1,100 public bodies.

Appointments to boards will continue to be made on merit, and the Government will step up its efforts to attract qualified women to public positions and ensure that working practices and conditions are family-friendly.